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Why PhD Students Are So Important for Universities

PhD students, know this: your university needs you. Yes, you work hard. Yes, you’re focused. Yes, sometimes you miss the big picture because of your laser-focus. Let's take a closer look at why you're so important for universities.

Apr 6, 2018
  • Education
Why PhD Students Are So Important for Universities

PhD students, know this: your university needs you. Yes, you work hard. Yes, you’re focused. Yes, sometimes you miss the big picture because of your laser-focus.

Sometimes it may not feel like your university appreciates you—your long hours, your attention to detail, your insane teaching schedule.

Remember this though: you produce academic work. You teach. You bring diversity to your campus.

You’re a valuable asset to your community and your university needs you. Some universities show it. Let’s take a closer look at why you—PhD students—are so important for universities.

1. PhD students produce university research

You are inventors and innovators, mentors and instructors.

You produce the bulk of publishable academic research at your institution and demonstrate your commitment to your field.

Since you want to make positive contributions to your field and the world, you spend long hours are your desk or your laboratory. You live close-by, probably in a residential campus.

You live and breathe your research. If you have a family, they probably do, too.

You are indispensable to the future of your field.

That’s partly why British universities are a touch nervous about Brexit.

A recent article in The Guardian highlighted the fear among some top British universities that many top European academics who started their careers in the UK will jump ship—and no one will want to replace them.

There’s also that current uncertainty about the UK’s access to EU research funds after 2020.

The consequence of PhD students leaving the UK? They take their research with them and publish elsewhere.

2. PhD students teach

PhD students from around the world travel to US universities to conduct research. Another requirement? Teaching.

What’s interesting about this? Universities need you to teach. It’s part of what you do as a graduate student.

Many universities offer assistance with your first teaching responsibilities in your role.

As you know now, teaching is hard. It’s really hard. It requires preparation, practice, reflection, and consistent tinkering to make it effective.

One key—think about the ways you learn best and adapt your courses to a variety of styles and methods.

So how do you balance your academic research with your teaching responsibilities? As you do everything else. Try your best. Ask for help if you need it.

3. International graduate students bring diversity to universities

PhD programs actively recruit international students to bring new perspectives to their campuses—and their students.

Diversity in the student mix often facilitates education and understanding. Having a diverse cohort of PhD students also adds potential diversity to the local labor market. Those with especially exemplary academic records combined with diligent work ethics are recruited readily by campuses looking to strengthen research.

4. Some countries realize how important you are

Many countries realize how critical you are to the success of their campuses and want to make it easier for you to attend.

New Zealand, for example, charges international PhD students the same as domestic students. This strategy helped New Zealand beef up the number of high-quality PhD students coming to their campuses.

The increase in New Zealand’s research impact has consequently bumped up research rankings at eight universities in the country—despite their overall fall in their share of the international education market.

In some places in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, PhD students are university employees, rather than students. What are the benefits? Sick leave. Parental leave. Pension. Healthcare. Retirement contributions.

In the US, things are less clear-cut for PhD students. Some universities have allowed PhD students to unionize so that they can earn better pay and benefits. At others, students have both student and employee benefits.

What’s the bottom line? All universities know that PhD students work hard. Some take different approaches to how they treat their students.

Learn more about earning your PhD.

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